Science spending 'will miss target'

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The Independent Online

Britain is unlikely to hit a European Union target to raise research and development (R&D) spending to 3 per cent of national wealth by the end of the decade, the Government admitted yesterday.

Britain is unlikely to hit a European Union target to raise research and development (R&D) spending to 3 per cent of national wealth by the end of the decade, the Government admitted yesterday.

Lord Sainsbury, the Science minister, said the 3 per cent target - equivalent to about £30bn in today's money - would be very "difficult to achieve". He was speaking as the Government published its consultation document on plans for a 10-year strategy for investment in science and engineering.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, said this summer's spending review would increase the rate of growth of government R&D spending until at least 2008. The last review, in 2002, raised investment by 10 per cent a year.

"We want to see more successful British research and innovation and to achieve that, we will support our 10-year science strategy by locking in the significant boost to science from the last two spending reviews," he said. "I can confirm we will continue to work with leading science-based companies, the scientific community and research charities so that for the years from 2005-06 we can raise science funding as a share of national income."

Mr Brown, Lord Sainsbury and Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, launched the consultation at a breakfast meeting with the heads of leading pharmaceutical firms and the research and scientific communities. The Chancellor said R&D spending fell from 1.5 per cent of GDP in 1981 to 1.16 per cent when Labour took office in 1997 but rose to 1.24 per cent since then. Challenged on the 3 per cent EU target, Mr Brown said: "It is obvious we all have to do better. The share of R&D is rising and will continue to rise."

The Chancellor said the Government's aims were supported by organisations such as Shell, Vodafone, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), AstraZeneca, BP and Rolls-Royce who yesterday set out their commitment to R&D.

GSK, the pharmaceutical company, revealed it was launching a £76m clinical-imaging centre at Hammersmith Hospital in London in partnership with Imperial College. The centre's aim is to help fight diseases such as Parkinson's.

AstraZeneca, whose chief executive Sir Tom McKillop attended yesterday's event, is opening a £58m R&D centre in Macclesfield, Cheshire, and spending £16m at its base in Loughborough, Leicestershire.

Asked whether the investment was linked with the Government's plans, Sir Tom said: "If we had serious doubts about the commitment to science and innovation in the UK it would have been totally irresponsible to our shareholders to have made this investment."

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